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The Underused Attic

By MNR News posted 09-27-2021

In the quest for more room, homeowners are rediscovering an overlooked space.

When it comes to home improvement projects, the attic is the final frontier. In fact, nationally, basement renovations far outpace attics. But in an era when buying a new home is more expensive and competitive than ever, many homeowners are looking to their attics for additional space. Whether you need a new home office or an extra bedroom, it’s cheaper to convert an attic than adding a new room from scratch.

Assessing Costs

That said, attic makeovers are not cheap. Although some DIYers can pull together a simple man-cave for around $5,000 to $15,000 (not including beer), professional renovations are considerably more. Home Advisor estimates that nationally, the average attic renovation costs about $50,000. Here in the Twin Cities, some design-and-build firms charge as much as $140,000 to $200,000 for premium builds, depending on the size of the space, complexity, and added amenities (a bathroom can tack on $20,000 to $30,000). So, whether hiring a firm or going DIY, there are many expenses to factor:

  • Design and plans
  • Pulling permits and inspections
  • Site prep
  • New framing (and demolition work if needed)
  • Installing ducts and vents
  • New HVAC system
  • Building a dormer window
  • Adding stairs
  • New doors
  • Wiring
  • Lighting
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Flooring
  • Millwork and finish
  • Cleanup and waste removal
  • Final inspection (required in some townships and cities)

Before You Even Think About Starting

Be sure to check your community’s building codes before launching an attic renovation. Zoning laws in some areas prohibit using attics as living spaces. If renovations are allowed, you may still have to obtain a building permit (these can be very expensive), especially if you are adding wiring or ventilation.

Renovate Your Attic in 10 (not so easy) Steps

  1. Design It
    Hiring an architect to appraise the space and create a design is an investment that can save a lot of aggravation and costly mistakes. The architect can also help you map out the entire renovation process.
  2. Clean and Inspect It
    If your attic is already partially finished with a floor and walls, and is being used for storage, your first task is to clear it out. After that, inspect the insulation in the walls and beneath the floor, and determine its condition. If it’s compacted or damaged, you’ll need to remove and replace it.
  3. Wire It
    When you’ve got your permits in order, hire an electrician to install wiring in the walls and ceiling.
  4. Light It
    Your attic’s dusty, dim windowpanes might have worked fine when the space’s sole function was storage, but a living space needs more light. Depending on the room’s configuration, you could install brighter dormer windows or skylights.
    Tip: If windows aren’t an option, build ceiling lights into your wiring scheme.
  5. Ventilate It
    If your attic does not currently have duct work, consult an HVAC specialist to see what it will cost to expand your system. More cost-effective options include baseboard heaters and a mini-split air-cooling system designed for individual rooms.
  6. Subfloor It!
    Most modern attics don’t have floors and are made of little more than joists and insulation. Building a thick subfloor provides the foundation for carpet or other finished surfaces like wood or tile.
    Tip: A subfloor adds insulation value and reduces noise for the floors below.
  7. Insulate It
    If needed, replace and upgrade the existing insulation. Batt insulation with a vapor-retarding face is an ideal choice for attics because it is easy to install and can be layered where needed.
  8. Drywall It
    Who would think that sheets of cardboard and gypsum could so magically transform a space? This is the stage where your room really starts taking shape.
    Tip: If you’re installing the drywall yourself, take a page from the pros and hang it horizontally. Although it takes more care and effort, it will minimize the number of seams you’ll need to mud over, creating a cleaner finish.
  9. Paint It
    Before you break out the color palettes, be sure to thoroughly prime the drywall. After that, pluck your favorite shade from the rainbow and put on at least two coats.
    Tip: If the space is small and doesn’t have much natural light, go for lighter, brighter colors that open it up.
  10. Floor It!
    Lay down a classic look for your new home office with the warm glow of oak. Or indulge your inner hippie with a stretch of purple shag. It’s shag-a-delic baby! Whatever your taste or style, there are acres of floor options to choose.
    Tip: If you like a quiet home, carpeting provides maximum noise reduction. Wood floors, on the other hand, can make every footfall sound like a tap-dance routine.

Learn More About Remodeling an Attic

Before you pick up a hammer and build your dream attic, pick up a pen and do some research. Here are a few helpful resources:

Read This Before You Finish Your Attic

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Foundation Problems to Avoid

7 Fixes to Avoid Major Foundation Problems

Water can damage a foundation in countless ways, so homeowners should look to experts for the dos and don’ts.

September 24, 2021


Water is not always our friend. Sure, we drink it, swim in it, and need it to survive, but when it comes to homes, it can destroy the foundation, says home inspector Thomas Dabb of Immaculate Home Inspections in South Orange, N.J.

Water can enter a home from the exterior and interior, so buyers and homeowners need to keep their eyes open for signs of its presence—or worse—its damage.

The good news is that there are many experts available to spot and diagnose a problem and suggest the best fix. Water expert Steve Barckley with Exceptional Stone Products in Livingston, N.J., believes that homeowners should start by doing everything possible on the outside of the homes to correct problems and divert water away from a foundation.

Share these seven solutions with clients to help them minimize a foundation’s damage in various scenarios.

1. Improve grading. The slope of a property may direct water toward the base of a single-family house or multifamily dwelling rather than away. Cracks or openings in the foundation then allow it to enter, as well as through higher-level walls, the roof, and other entry points. Fix: “Be sure the grade slopes away from the house,” says Bill Coulbourne, a structural engineer whose eponymous company is near Annapolis, Md. A berm of soil or a swale with planting can prevent water from making its way to a foundation, says Cary Jozefiak, a home inspector with HomeTeam Inspection in Chicago. Caveats: This approach requires periodic maintenance to be sure the berm doesn’t erode. “It also needs to be directed so water doesn’t move toward a neighbor’s property,” Coulbourne says. Using a French drain to allow water to dissipate slowly from near the foundation into the landscape is more environmentally friendly than introducing it into the street to wash away, says Barckley. French drains also require some preventive maintenance to avoid clogging, Jozefiak says.

2. Waterproof a foundation. Keeping the foundation dry will prevent moisture from accumulating on the outside or entering inside. Fix: If wet, the best fix is to waterproof the exterior perimeter and interior walls of a basement or crawl space to prevent capillary action from building up, says New York City architect Victor Body-Lawson of Body Lawson Associates. “What we try to do is create an envelope around a building so water can’t enter through its skin, sometimes with a rain screen that drains water down and out to a storm drainage system,” he says. A sump pump will help if there’s moisture and water inside. It must drain far enough from a house, so water doesn’t recycle back inside if the property slopes or there’s an opening. Home inspector David Rose of Astute Home Inspections in Plainfield, N.J., suggests the drain be at least 5 feet from a house. A backup battery will prove useful if power fails.

3. Install gutters and downspouts. Water flowing off a roof will land near a house and possibly cause damage over time. Fix: A good line of defense is to have both gutters and downspouts installed around a home or building’s perimeter. The downspouts should extend far enough to carry away the water rather than have it sit near a foundation. Jozefiak recommends six feet away from a house. To keep gutters and downspouts functioning, they must be cleaned. How often to do so may depend on the trees near a house, Coulbourne says.

4. Keep large trees and bushes away from a house. Tree roots and other plant materials try to grow toward water, which can destabilize a structure and penetrate foundations, says Rose. Fix: If large trees already grow near a house, check that plumbing lines are free, and confirm there aren’t foundation cracks. If problems arise, the tree may need to be taken down or bushes transplanted, Body-Lawson says. Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman suggests consulting a licensed arborist to check roots, stability, and if the tree should be removed. “The best time to remove trees is in winter when they are dormant,” Glassman says.

5. Don’t ignore diagonal cracks. Movement, temperature changes, and time may cause foundation cracks to develop. But large diagonal ones require attention from a structural engineer to avoid bigger issues. “Visual clues appear before structural inadequacies do,” says Madison, Conn.-based architect Duo Dickinson. Among the problems are moisture and salt destroying anything made of steel and non-pressure-treated wood, which may rot, Dickinson says. Fix: Cracks suggest settlement and send a red flag that something might be wrong with a foundation, says Body-Lawson. “It might have sagged but it may not deteriorate further. However, if it continues to do so, the foundation needs underpinning.” Cracks that appear in foundation walls due to settlement may be visible in a first floor’s interior, too, says Coulbourne. Hairline cracks are common, but when it’s a quarter-inch in width and V-shaped, it may indicate pressure on an exterior wall.

6. Check for significant leaks and stains, especially efflorescence in a basement. “An unfinished basement is the best basement because it’s easier to see problems,” says Rose. Fix: When a basement is finished, experts recommend looking for clues. For example, a rust color that shows through paint can be a sign of moisture, says Barckley. Efflorescence—white powder left behind from minerals in water—may also appear. Coulbourne says that mold is another indicator, most likely visible at the base of a wall where moisture accumulates. Use your nose, too, he says. “If you walk into a damp basement, you can smell that,” he says. Sometimes areas covered over need to be checked. For example, Rose may pop open ceiling tiles to examine what’s behind them.

7. Learn why interior or patio floors may slant. It could be that a house is settling, which happens over time, says Body-Lawson. “Old houses may sag a little and then stop,” he says. But if the floor or patio was level and now slants, it might be time to hire a structural engineer, says Jason Chang of Jersey Inspections in Verona, N.J. Fix: Floorboards, tiles, and carpet can be picked up, joists shimmed, and a new layer installed, says Body-Lawson. If water gets under pavers outdoors, they may need to be taken up, the pitch of the patio checked, a membrane or drainage system installed, then pavers put back, Jozefiak says.

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August 2021 Housing Report

By MNR News posted 09-14-2021

Lack of inventory stalls transactions in a competitive market

In a sign that the heated summer sales season is cooling, closed sales of residential homes in Minnesota declined 3.0% compared to August 2020. New listings dropped 3.8% over last year. Despite shrinking inventory, buyers scrambled to purchase homes, competing with multiple offers that drove the median sales price up 11.3% to $316,000. Consequently, available properties were quickly purchased, with days on the market plunging by 38.1% to just 26 days. The number of homes for sale declined 25.0%, leaving a 1.5-month supply of properties for sale. Sellers profited from the high demand, averaging 101.7% of their asking price on a typical transaction. That marks a 3.4% increase over August 2020.

“As we head into fall, buyer demand is still far outpacing supply. Despite the ideal environment for selling a home, a lot of potential sellers are sitting on the fence. They’re worried about their ability to find an affordable property after they sell,” said Chris Galler, CEO of Minnesota Realtors. “With school starting again, many sellers will wait until spring before they think about putting their homes on the market. It’s a cycle that’s likely to repeat until market forces increase inventory or rising interest rates put the brakes on purchasing power.”

August year-over-year summary of key market indicators:

  • Closed sales decreased 3.0% to 9,688
  • Median sales price increased 11.3% to $316,000
  • Average sales price increased 13.4% to $367,407
  • New listings decreased 3.8% to 11,499
  • Pending sales decreased12.0% to 9,261
  • Days on the market decreased 38.1% to 26 days
  • Homes for sale decreased 25.0% to 11,956

Closed Home Sales Across Minnesota by Region
Closed sales were down across the state with 10 regions reporting declines compared to August 2020. The exceptions were Southwest, which marked a 5.0% rise in closed sales, and Central which was up 1.8%. Three regions saw double-digit declines: West Central at -25.3%, Headwaters at -11.1%, and Arrowhead at -10.7%. See the chart below for more details comparing closed home sales for August 2021 to August 2020.

chart of housing statistics

The seven-county Twin Cities region comprises Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties. The official Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan statistical area recognized by the Census Bureau consists of 16 counties, on which MAR & SPAAR local associations report.